Day One: Sunday, 29th April 2017.
Leaving the UK and heading for Minnesota.
Sue drove me down to LHR for the 13:00 flight to MSP in Minnesota. She’s put up with my fascination with Close Encounters since we met and patiently put up with my promise of going – and then never going.
So, after she bravely negotiated LHR’s one-way systems and ditching the ‘Booster Rocket’ in T3 parking, we dumped my luggage, grabbed a spot of lunch, said our goodbyes and off I went on the trip of a lifetime!
Departed LHR at 13:00 bound for MSP. Flew with Delta and paid for a bit more legroom and a better class of food/ drink/ ent. I probably didn’t need to as the leg room was really good and the food was excellent. I love flying – it’s a passion and I’m very lucky to fly a lot with my job so I’m used to aircraft food, but this was ( ignoring business class trips) the best food I’ve ever had on a plane. The service was excellent too. Friendly crew and attentive but equally respectful if you were watching a movie or daydreaming out the window. The drinks were regularly dispensed and the movie / TV/ selection were excellent – watched Assassin’s Creed (regrettable) and Girl on a Train (not regrettable) amongst other things. Flight time was about 9hrs 10mins. I spent a lot of time watching the flight data screen which gives you info on where you are/ when you are etc. alt, ground speed, eta. I frikkin love all that shit. Took some snaps of where we were and then added them to whatsapp and pinged my g/f back in the UK. I didn’t opt for Wi-Fi on the plane as I like to leave all that social media stuff on the ground.
Flying for me is a kind of therapy and a chance to escape into the clouds for a brief moment – literally – and always a window seat!. So my g/f would have gotten a load of back-dated messages on where I was at about 22:00 – when I touched down in Minneapolis – I’m thoughtful like that haha. She was back home 100 miles away ten minutes before I took off and I flew over our town about 30 mins after that! heading north to Scotland en route to Greenland and then to Minnesota.
The guy sitting next to me was a seasoned traveller too. We exchanged niceties when we took off but that was it really. But on final approach we got talking about things to do in Minneapolis. He explained that I had enough time before my connection for Rapid City, to venture out to the Mall of America, or, much better, up to Minnehaha Park etc. So once I’d gotten my luggage onto the connecting flight I headed out of the Lindbergh Terminal and caught the Metro Blue Line transit train to Minnehaha Park, some 3 miles out of the airport.
It was about 16:30 local time – 22:30 GMT – so I was flagging a little and I still had to stay awake for another six hours before my connecting flight to Rapid City. But I thought hey, what the frik?, this is bucket list trip right?. Get your frikkin arse to the tourist site! So I arrived at the train stop and some locals pointed me in the right direction across the highway to the Minnehaha Park and Waterfall. The street sign was cool!. I mean, come on, I’m a solo Brit on an adventure to the mid-west and the street signs say Hiawatha and Minnehaha??…what a great start!!
(It was actually quite cold and overcast in Minneapolis at that time of the afternoon so I was glad I’d packed my North Face jacket in my hand luggage/ ruck sack. I’d seen that it was snowing at Devils Tower the past week so I reluctantly took the jacket, but it turned out to be a god-send – more on that later in the trip.)
Upon entering the park you are immediately faced with a lovely old building that was the very first to be built by a pioneer called John Stevens in 16 something or other. It was originally a few miles away but it was moved to this safer location by a local heritage team and is a little museum in summer season. It was closed when I arrived but it’s a nice building to see as it’s so very different to older UK historical houses.
Heading around the park on the perimeter, side stepping a wedding party taking snaps in the gazebo, you come to a set of steps dropping away to the right. I could hear water falling somewhere so I took the steps and headed down to find out where. You’re confronted with this rather lovely waterfall – the famous Minnehaha Falls – to your left. They aren’t massive by any means but they are impressive as they fall into a classic plunge pool in a small horse shoe and then run downstream in a fast flowing river. Here are some pics.
(Side note: as a kid in 1979, my first ever album was a cassette version of Mike Oldfield’s ‘Incantations’. I was 13 and I initially hated it as it was about 90 minutes of repetitive prog rock around one or two chord progressions when I got it because I thought it had the single ‘Guilty’ on it. However, I grew to love it and I particularly liked the finale which was a vocal track built around H.W. Longfellow’s ‘Hiawatha’ ( not a real person – more an amalgamation of Iroquois or Onondaga tribal legends from between the 14th and 17th Century – I’m not sure about the accuracy or even the geography of these poems, but as a kid, the lyrics, music and Maddy Prior’s vocals took me away to far off lands, and I thought it was pretty cool that all these years later, and by chance, not by design, that I’d here I was just off Hiawatha Avenue by Minnehaha Falls. Time to whip out the iPod classic and play the very same track by the very waterfalls themselves! Yes sir!. Thanks Mike – I finally got to hear the song and walk along the very river and waterfall I imagined as a little kid starting out on his musical life)
Minnehaha – Hiawatha’s fictional lover – equally was not a real girl either. Dang it! what the frik? It’s just a poem? Oh well, it’s a nice thought and it didn’t stop me taking a walk along the river banks downstream from the waterfall ( which is what her name means in Dakota language – laughing water) and playing the full 90 minutes of Incantations. The sun eventually came out and I wandered, slightly bloody knackered along the river banks to my next surprise encounter!
The falls upstream flow into the Minnehaha Creek, which is where I was walking, a very gentle creek lined with trees and not all that deep. High wooded cliffs on one side, low wooded hills on the other. But as the creek comes to an end it joins……wait for it………wait for it………..the frikkin Mississippi!
Yes, the real Mississippi, the one from the movies from waaaaay down south. Haha, imagine that. I’m not three hours in America, not even got my connecting flight, let alone got to Rapid City or even close to Wyoming, and I’ve seen Minnehaha Waterfalls and the Mississippi River! So I whipped out the iPod again, shoved on ‘Moon River’ by Andy Williams and of course ‘Mississippi’ by Pussycat haha. Classics the pair of them – not that ‘Moon River’ was written about the Mississippi of course, but the lyrics contain ‘Huckleberry friend’ so it’s good enough for me. This is my dream trip and I own the iPod. Johnny Mercer wrote the song as a way to express his ‘longing to expand his horizons- a love song to wanderlust” so I can’t think of a better song to accompany me on this very personal journey on a bright but chilly Minnesota evening. The whole trip turned out to be more about the journey than the destination, and was certainly about scratching that wanderlust itch for me.
But it was getting late and I was nervous about missing the connecting flight and after washing my hands and cooling my overexcited, heated and furrowed brow in the Mississippi – just to say ‘I’ve done it’
...and after taking a few pics of a scary-arsed damn up river, I headed back upstream on the other bank, said goodbye to the falls and moseyed up to the metro station across Hiawatha and Minnehaha streets (– classic!-) to get back to MSP in good time for my second flight. ( local time 19:30 – GMT 01:30 – awake for 19hrs so far)
This is where I had another close encounter! I had about two hours to kill in MSP before boarding the second flight at 22:00 to Rapid City so I took stroll around the (bloody massive) airport’s many shops and eventually got dinner. Now I like plane food, it’s fun, varied and a lesson in space restriction and juggling to eat it all without dropping it on the floor, sliding it off the tray, pouring it into your co-passenger’s lap and generally wearing it, but eventually you need a decent better-quality meal.
McDonalds it was.
Now remember, we’re in America folks, so the meals are huge and take ages to eat even though technically it was 02:30 in the morning back at home and I’d been awake for 20 hours straight and had already kicked tourist arse around Minnehaha Park, I was frikkin starving. Call it what you will, long flight, excitement, airplane vs hamburger, I’ll never know – it’s up there with the Marie Celeste and people who find Russell Brand amusing – we’ll just never know. But within ten minutes I was firmly ensconced in the lavatory. It was my worst nightmare – dream trip, great start, great planning, loads of time for connection- toilet. I could not believe it. They were actually calling folks to board over the toilet tannoy. I was beginning to panic – which made things worse. But a ray of humour shone through as I was sat contemplating what it would cost me to catch another flight the next morning when over the tannoy comes the ‘Theme from Bridges of Madison County’… haha.
I’ll be honest here folks, yes it’s a tacky romantic movie, but I like it and so does the g/f. Plus I love the soundtrack – Johnny Hartmann is a genius and overlooked crooner. So I like to think that in my hour of need, and at a point of do or die, my g/f was with me in that far off distant bog, spurning me on to get the frik off the toilet, man up and catch that f*cking plane! All through the medium of music.
And that I did. I tackled the Dyson hand dryer which took several layers of epidermis off and nearly stole my bracelets, jumped on the connecting Delta flight to RAP – a little road weary, a little lighter, still frikkin hungry, and a little saddle sore.
It was a quiet uneventful flight, but god what a view! (I was frankly knackered by this stage as I’d been up and travelling for about 22 hrs straight but I was still too tired to sleep on the plane)
It was dark when we took off and the night was clear, both up above and down below. Of course, this is heading to mid-west America so there was NOTHING to see below once we flew out of MSP…NOTHING…it dawned on me the distances between cities across this part of the US. Only from above can this be appreciated. But what I did get was a beautiful moon and star map out the starboard window. Absolutely stunning. It’s moments like that when they close the cabin lights out and you’re up there at 30,000ft, in the dark, cruising along, everyone is quiet or sleeping, and all there is are the sound of the jet engines throbbing through the fuselage and that view. It’s one of my favourite times. It’s a great moment to think about where you are and what you’re doing and where you’re heading. It was that moment when the size of the trip and the awesome adventure finally, truly, started to kick in. I was on a night flight to Rapid City, I’m really here, I’m actually really doing this. Next stop: Devils Tower, Wyoming!
Er, not so fast Brit! I mentioned that the land below was vast and unlit and the departure from a very well lit and sprawling Minneapolis and St Pauls was spectacular, but to say it quickly disappeared to literally hundreds of miles of pitch black is no joke. I didn’t see a thing on the ground for close to 90 minutes. As we approached Rapid City, I expected a similar burst of urban lighting and strips of road lights guiding us in but what I saw was a tiny oasis of light in the distance and only when we started banking right on final approach did I realise just how small RAP airport was.
On landing, I found out just how small it was – it was tiny. I was off the plane, got my luggage and on the hotel shuttle in 2o minutes. Excellent!
I was still very excited and probably running on fumes but was glad after the travelling to finally be on the ground and headed to my hotel. I didn’t realise that the shuttle was not a dedicated HOJO shuttle – it was a multidrop bus that also dropped a local resident at her house – so it took about 45mins to get to the hotel which was only about ten mins away direct, but hey, the native American driver and the contractor sharing the ride were great entertainment with tales of reservation fights over an oil pipeline somewhere up north, and I got to see urban Rapid City at night so that was a bonus. Eventually checked into a lovely HOJO suite at 00:30 in the city. I phoned my g/f to let her know I had arrived safely and then hit the sack.
24hrs and no sleep – I slept for nine hours solid.
No that’s a lie :) I slept for 4 and a 1/2 hours because I was on UK body clock and couldn’t get to sleep, and by 06:30 I was wide awake and ready to rock! Welcome to America!!
Glen. Rapid City April, 2017